Learning Disabilities: 9 Types, Symptoms & Tests

Learning DisabilitiesAlbert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Sylvester Stallone, Thomas Edison, and Keanu Reeves.

What do all of these individuals have in common?

They were all diagnosed with a learning disability.

What are learning disabilities, and how can these people be successful despite them? How can we help our students achieve academic and social–emotional standards despite the difficulties that learning disabilities present?

Although individuals can’t outgrow learning disabilities, they can learn to overcome them. This is where you come in. You can completely change someone’s life by teaching them strategies to overcome the challenges associated with learning disabilities.

In this article, we will share the scientific and research-based approaches and methods for encouraging a growth mindset and resilience and helping your learners become the superstars they are destined to be.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Resilience Exercises for free. These engaging, science-based exercises will help you effectively deal with difficult circumstances and give you the tools to improve the resilience of your clients, students, or employees.

What Are Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities are various disorders that affect the use, understanding, organization, and retention of verbal and nonverbal information. These neurodevelopmental disorders can lead to difficulties in perceiving and processing verbal and nonverbal data (Chieffo et al., 2023).

More specifically, the US Department of Education (IDEA, 2014) defines a specific learning disability as a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes that make listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or mathematical calculations difficult for an individual.

This definition includes brain injuries, minimal brain dysfunctions, developmental aphasia, dyslexia, and perceptual disabilities.

Not included in this definition are learning difficulties caused by intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances, or environmental, cultural, and economic disadvantages (IDEA, 2014).

Not all students with a learning disability will require special education. Only students who have been found to have a disability and need special education to make progress receive special education services.

How do we help our students overcome these learning impairments? To do that, we must first understand the various types of learning disabilities.

9 Types of Learning Disabilities in Adults and Children

Learning Disabilities in AdultsLearning disorders indicate that the brain takes in and works with information in a way that is atypical. There is a discrepancy between an individual’s expected skills based on age and their academic performance.

Learning disabilities/disorders are typically comorbid (Al-Mahrezi et al., 2016; Aro et al., 2024). In other words, individuals with a learning disability are more likely than their peers to exhibit other disorders as well.

The terms disability and disorder will be used interchangeably throughout this article. The use of one term over the other does not indicate a greater impact on daily functioning (Casey, 2012).

Below, you will find a description of the most common learning disabilities, many of which fall under the umbrella term of specific learning disability.

Specific learning disability/disorder

Learning difficulties, known as specific learning disabilities (SLDs), encompass a range of disorders related to challenges in acquiring and applying academic skills (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Casali et al., 2024).

These challenges may include difficulty reading words accurately or at a slow pace, comprehending written content, spelling errors, grammatical and syntactical mistakes, and organization of written work.

Examples of SLDs include dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder, language processing disorder, and visual perceptual/visual motor deficit.


This is the most common learning disability (Al-Mahrezi et al., 2016; Handler et al., 2011). Individuals who experience this disability have difficulty with decoding, fluent word recognition, rapid automatic naming, and/or reading comprehension skills (Handler et al., 2011).

This receptive language-based disorder calls for remediation in decoding, fluency training, vocabulary, and comprehension.


Developmental dysgraphia is a written language disorder regarding mechanical writing skills (Danna et al., 2023). In short, writing abilities are affected.

As we still rely heavily on written communication, dysgraphia can be a serious problem, affecting a child’s normal development, academic achievements, and self-esteem (Drotár & Dobeš, 2020).


Individuals with dyscalculia experience arithmetic and symbolic number comparison difficulties (Mahmud et al., 2020). This disorder affects applications of mathematical operations and is one of the lesser-known learning disabilities.

Students with this disability may develop an aversion to numbers and, unfortunately, a fixed mindset. It is critical for teachers to create positive attitudes toward learning math and motivate students (Kunwar & Sharma, 2020). Like the other learning disabilities, teaching interventions will be crucial.

Auditory processing disorder

In this disorder, the individual’s brain may misinterpret or confuse the order of sounds in specific words. People with an auditory processing disorder will have a particularly challenging time understanding speech in noisy environments or when there are competing speech sounds (Sardone et al., 2020).

Language processing disorder

Language processing disorder involves difficulty attaching meaning to sound groups in words, sentences, and stories (Corcoran et al., 2020).

This is often thought of as a subgroup of auditory processing disorders. Individuals with this disability are placed at a disadvantage, as speech and language act as an origin of information on the organization and content of thought (Corcoran et al., 2020).

Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit

Visual perception, fine motor, and visual–motor skills are essential for school readiness and daily life (Dathe et al., 2020).

These skills help your brain make sense of what it sees. Deficits in visual perceptual and visual–motor skills may result in poor hand–eye coordination or difficulty with sequencing, discrimination, memory, or spatial awareness.

Like other learning disabilities, these deficits may cause a student to dislike school and become resistant when asked to complete schoolwork.

Developmental language disorder

Previously known as specific language impairment, developmental language disorder is a communication disorder that affects learning, understanding, and using language (Saar et al., 2023).

The language difficulties experienced by individuals with this disorder cannot be attributed to autism, hearing loss, or a lack of exposure to language.

Nonverbal learning disorder

With this type of learning difficulty, learners have sufficient written skills, verbal expression, and vocabulary; however, they exhibit deficits with nonverbal activities (Handler et al., 2011).

These activities may include visual–spatial tasks, reading body language, recognizing social cues, and problem-solving. Unlike what it appears to mean, the term nonverbal learning disorder does not indicate that the person has an inability to speak.

With an even more astute understanding of the idea of specific learning disability as an umbrella term, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has an excellent video.

Learning disabilities, what are the different types

On another note, some experts consider autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to be learning disabilities as well, while other professionals include these conditions as developmental disorders or developmental disabilities.

Signs and Symptoms of a Learning Disability (& 12 Tests)

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of learning disabilities will aid in the identification process. Once a student is identified as having these learning needs, we can provide effective intervention and support.

Students may not be diagnosed as having a learning disability until they are school-aged; however, these symptoms may be present before they even begin their academic journey.

Symptoms may also include fatigue, stress, and a depressed or anxious mood. Students may be reluctant to attend school, or adults may be hesitant to try new things.

Learning disabilities are usually detected in schools. The first step is when difficulties are recognized by a teacher or parent through observation or screening. Performance reviews, parent interviews, medical history, and educational history may all be considered within this process.

The next step is more formal academic testing. To determine if an individual has a learning disability, academic testing may be administered. Academic testing gauges an individual’s reading, writing, and math skills in comparison to their peers.

A discrepancy between the achievement tests and the intelligence quotient could indicate a disability (Benson et al., 2020).

Academic testing may include assessments such as the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Academic Achievement, the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, and the Wide Range of Achievement Test.

Some of the more common tests for intelligence include the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.

A visual motor test may include the Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test and the Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration.

Language tests include the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, the Test of Language Development, and the Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation.

A physical and neurological exam may also be conducted to rule out brain disease, mental health conditions, and intellectual disabilities.

3 resilience exercises

Download 3 Free Resilience Exercises (PDF)

These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients to recover from personal challenges and turn setbacks into opportunities for growth.

A Strengths-Based Approach to Learning Disabilities

A strengths-based approach is necessary for teaching students with learning disabilities, as identification of students’ strengths can elicit positive emotions, thereby increasing self-efficacy (Galloway et al., 2020).

Therefore, strengths identification activities, strengths-based learning goals, and strengths-related learning choices will be beneficial for students with learning disabilities. To understand just how important a strengths-based approach is, check out this video from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Strengths of students with learning disabilities and other disorders

In considering individuals with a learning disability, it is important to understand neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity includes the terms neurotypical and neurodivergent. People who are neurotypical exhibit standard brain functions, behaviors, and processing, while individuals considered to be neurodivergent have brains that function differently than a person who is neurotypical.

Remember that children and adults who experience ADHD, autism, and some other disabilities merely learn differently than those without these disorders. Centering strengths can be a good way to connect. For instance, if a student enjoys music and learns musical concepts very quickly, the teacher may wish to relate new learning to music or deliver the content by way of song.

In considering a strengths-based approach, it will also be critical to use person-first language. Using this strengths-based language elicits a more positive view of the student and their potential (Harkness et al., 2022). It is best practice to address the individual before the diagnosis. For example, it is more respectful to refer to someone with a learning disability as just that, an individual with a learning disability, as opposed to a learning-disabled person. As another example, instead of referring to someone as intellectually disabled, we would instead say a student with an intellectual disability.

Of course, not all individuals’ preferences can be generalized, and some languages do not translate as easily; however, this wording prevents potential stigma (Nutter et al., 2024).

Helping Students Develop a Growth Mindset

Teaching growth mindsetA growth mindset comprises a set of skills that are critical for not only individuals with learning disabilities, but also all who want to be successful.

It is believing in the malleability of the brain and the potential of learning and refining skills, both old and new. It is saying, “I may not be able to do this yet, but I can learn” and “I can do hard things.”

Students who exhibit a growth mindset outperform those without and are more apt to bounce back from setbacks (Schroder et al., 2017). These children more easily and more willingly face new challenges.

On the other hand, a fixed mindset may limit students’ effort, progress, and achievement (Galloway et al., 2020).

3 Activities to Foster Resilience

To help students develop a growth mindset, encourage them to be resilient. The following activities will help you assist students with learning disabilities in establishing resilience.

The hard thing

Implement Angela Duckworth’s (2018) “the hard thing” principle, wherein students opt for a challenging task of their choice.

Students autonomously select a challenge and exhibit perseverance when practicing their selected task. Children choose from activities such as counting to 100, tying their shoes, using breathing techniques when unregulated, or memorizing the multiplication tables.

To learn more about this method, please see Duckworth’s concise explanation.

Grit pie exercise

In this activity, consider the pie as the issue. Each segment represents a specific part of the bigger issue. In considering this graphic, students are encouraged to consider if the problem is temporary or permanent. Further, they are guided in determining if the problem is attributed to themselves or someone else. Along with perseverance and self-discipline, grit is a quality predictor of success (Bashant, 2014).


Grit Pie Example


Gamification incorporates game design principles and elements into non-game settings. Offering students gamified assistive applications bolsters motivation and support and enhances educational advancement for students with learning disabilities (Alkhawaldeh & Khasawneh, 2024).

Using games as an avenue for solidifying skills may be beneficial for individuals with learning disabilities, as they are fun and engaging. Gamification may involve a leaderboard for the most improved reading fluency, a contest for the most books read, or rewards for learning multiplication tables.

17 Tools To Build Resilience and Coping Skills

Empower others with the skills to manage and learn from inevitable life challenges using these 17 Resilience & Coping Exercises [PDF], so you can increase their ability to thrive.

Created by Experts. 100% Science-based.

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

PositivePsychology.com includes a plethora of resources for promoting positive education. Below are just a few that would be especially helpful in assisting students with learning disabilities.


Self-esteem is essential for every student, especially children with learning disabilities. Our Self-Esteem Check-Up for Kids worksheet would be helpful in gauging students’ levels of self-esteem and prompting you to focus more on building students’ self-efficacy.

These Kids Reward Coupons are an excellent source for families struggling at home with motivation or behavior. Share these during conferences with parents who express frustrations at home.

As discussed, a growth mindset is monumental for individuals with learning disabilities. Growth Mindset Phrases for Children will help you encourage this practice.


As we discussed, grit and resilience are the pillars of a growth mindset, and a growth mindset is critical for individuals with learning disabilities. 5+ Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset Using Grit & Resilience includes activities, books, and quotes concerning these essential traits. Try a few in your classroom!

Having a learning disability is hard. Teaching students with learning disabilities is hard. Having a positive mindset may not immediately be on your or their minds. Our article Positive Mindset: How to Develop a Positive Mental Attitude may help to encourage you and help you encourage others with a more positive mindset. In this piece, you will learn how to shift your attitude and why a positive attitude is the key to success.

Wishing you had more information on positive education? Take a look at our article Positive Education: Applying Positive Psychology in Schools. This piece includes positive exercises, activities, and worksheets to help not only your students with learning disabilities but students of all abilities.

For a comprehensive list of positive education books to help you grow in your practice, take a look at our article Positive Education Books: Best Books for Teachers. In this curated list, you will find books to help guide you in classroom management, encouraging mindfulness, and teaching resilience in the classroom.

Resiliency is a critical skill for teaching students with learning disabilities, not only for the students to encompass, but also for the staff who work with them.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others overcome adversity, check out this collection of 17 validated resilience and coping exercises. Use them to help others recover from personal challenges and turn setbacks into opportunities for growth.

A Take-Home Message

As an educator, I know that teaching students with learning disabilities is demanding; however, it is equally rewarding. Having the right tools will help you make a positive impact on their lives. One of these basic tools is a keen understanding of learning disabilities.

While the cause of learning disabilities remains unclear, there is a solid understanding of how to help students with their learning needs.

Please remember that an individual with a learning disability does not have an intellectual deficit; their brain just works differently from others’. As educators, we should encourage a growth mindset and foster resiliency in our schools and with all our pupils.

How I overcame my learning disabilities to become a physician

John Rhodes’s TEDx talk is both inspirational and motivational as he speaks on having a learning disability and becoming a medical doctor.

If students struggle with the way we teach, perhaps we need to teach the way they learn.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Resilience Exercises for free.

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